Law Office Computing
A few years ago I saw an interview with Bill Gates and Andy Grove, two of the most influential leaders of the digital revolution. When asked what the most important contribution of digital technology was, they both agreed that e-mail was at the top of the list. When asked if they could choose only one of the many technologies that have changed our lives over the last twenty years they both agreed again. Both of these innovative leaders agreed that the one technology that they could not live without was e-mail. That was a few years ago but I’m certain if you were to bring Gates and Grove together again they would confirm that e-mail is the most important tool that they have for running their businesses. And, they would quickly add, that e-mail has become a terrible burden because of spam.
Some of you may remember a controversy that arose about ten years ago when a couple of Phoenix lawyers sent out a mass e-mail advertising their immigration practice. The response to that use of the Internet for commercial purposes created a huge outcry among the elitist techies who were then the major users of the Internet. The thrust of the outcry was that the Internet was not a place for commercial advertising and that these lawyers were violating the most basic unwritten rules by using the Internet for those crass purposes. The people who complained were Internet purists of the old school which was based on an email system that was difficult to learn and use. Only a few years after Lawrence Cantor and Martha Siegel shocked the Internet community, the development of Microsoft Windows and Netscape’s browser technology allowed even the most technically unsophisticated users to go on to the Internet. The growth of the Internet since that time has been phenomenal and the discovery in recent years of its potential for inexpensive advertising has led to the current problem that we call spam (Stupid Pointless Annoying Messages).
There are many studies regarding the impact that spam has had upon the Internet. I have seen numbers as high as 70 to 80 percent of the traffic on the Internet is properly classified as spam. In my own case, my unscientific analysis of my e-mail indicates that at least 50 percent of the e-mail and I receive is spam. I have been desperate to find an efficient way to curb the spam that clogs up my in box and takes me much time and effort to eradicate. I think I have found the answer for the short term in a product called Qurb.
Spam has many consequences beyond the simple consequences I noted above. For example, in my case, it becomes very difficult for me to receive e-mail on my Palm Pilot by logging on to my computer directly from a remote location. That is so because the high incidence of spam makes those services which would forward my e-mail to my PDA very expensive because they charge by the quantity of e-mail you receive. What I needed to in order to use my PDA for e-mail is to have a person in my office who is charged with forwarding those e-mails that I need to see to some kind of secret e-mail address that is not on any spam list. In my case, because I am all a “one man band”, spam makes it impossible for me to use my PDA for e-mail. I am not alone.
There are three basic tools that have been developed in recent years to control e-mail. First, there are the intelligent systems that use highly developed algorithms to read the e-mail and search for a long list of words and phrases that indicate that the e-mail is spam which is then refused by the e-mail server. Second, are so called black lists which prevent the mails from arriving at your computer by black listing various addresses. Typically what the blacklist technique does is to look for senders of e-mail who are known spammers and then blocking all of that e-mail from that sender. Unfortunately, many of these products never let you know that an email has been blocked. That creates problems when the software incorrectly concludes that a message is spam. Third, are the so called white lists which only allow those senders that you have pre-approved to get their mail through to you. The problem with white lists is that building a list of approved senders has until, the development of the new technology, been most difficult to do.
None of the above techniques have really had much impact on spam. Indeed it has grown by leaps and bounds. At the College of Law our technical people are now spending about half of their time attempting to identify spam messages. Since the law college uses an algorithm based tool we are susceptible to clever spammers who, for example, put hyphens between the letters in the words (as in s-e-x) in an effort to overcome the algorithm. Thus the use of such intelligent systems is a constant game of catch up that will never end. While tech staff’s efforts have reduced the amount of spam that we receive their efforts are only partially effective.
The black lists that attempt to block e-mail coming from particular servers have caused huge problems. Many times legitimate servers are commandeered by spammers which results in an unwelcome place on a blacklist. Only few years ago a hacker invaded our Law College mail server and started to send spam from it. The e-mail server got blacklisted and for a few days we could not get any mail from people because the so-called “block list” barred email coming from our server without regard to the actual person sending it. Indeed, it is sometimes almost impossible to discover the server from which the spam has been sent because spammers are very clever and changing e-mail addresses from one server to another in order to overcome the problem is easy to do. In short, there is no easy answer to spam. The best answer I have found is a product called Qurb. Unfortunately, it works only with Outlook 2000 and above. But since most of the world now uses one of the recent versions of Outlook it is beginning to have an effect. As far as individual users are concerned, Qurb works like a charm.
Qurb automatically builds its white list of approved senders by initially approving all of the addresses contained in your Contacts folder as well as all of the addresses to which you have sent e-mail. It also can pre-approve all the e-mail you have received and have saved. In my case the initial white list developed by Qurb contained about 11,000 e-mail addresses. Most of those e-mail addresses are from spammers, but since the spammer’s are always changing their e-mail address those spam addresses that have found their way to my white list really don’t cause any problem. And, unlike many of the white list programs, Qurb puts all messages from unapproved senders in a special folder and notifies you when it has done so. The only task you have is to quickly scan the folder and indicate and mark those addresses in it that you would like to add to your white list. All you then have to do is click on a button to move it on to the white list. You can then delete the remaining e-mails in that folder. While Qurb does allow you to blacklist certain addresses with a simple click of the “block” button, that does very little good in regard to the worst kind of spammers. Since they rely for their protection upon constantly changing the mail addresses black listing doesn’t do much. On the other hand, adding addresses from the Qurb folder to your approved list is very easy to do. That is really all you need to do to keep your email flowing. You can download a free trial product from www. Qurb.com or by the full product for only $24.95. While Qurb only works on your desktop or laptop computer they’re developing a program for Outlook Express and a server based product as well. I will let you know when that happens.